BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

As I Travel Along Life's Somtimes Stony Path - Part 1

by SwanseaLibraries

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Stanley Ogilvie
Location of story: 
North Africa, Near East, Far East, Europe
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
10 June 2004

Stanley Ogilvie in Tropical Uniform

Our memories can do many things, They can bring us joy or pain, Make us sad in lots of ways Then back to happiness again. Remind us of our early years And those that have passed since then. As life goes on we might complain While waiting for grey skies to clear. But it’s up to us to take the strain And overcome doubt and fear. We know that sunshine follows rain, That laughter can follow tears. Enjoy the years that yet remain Make these the Happy Years.

1. I was born in 1921, at 26 Cefnstylle Road in the south Wales village of Gowerton, about six
miles west of Swan sea, the only child of a Christian family. My Father, David James Ogilvie, then a farm bailiff, had been at one time a Sunday School Superintendent, and as I grew up taught me honesty and also the difference between right and wrong, while my Mother,
Annie, who had a quiet disposition, ensured that I observed these tenets, in respecting older folk and
in respecting other people’s property. Finances during my childhood were rather slender
although my Mother, being a good manager succeeded in ensuring that the family never went without essentials. My Father, being a keen gardener, grew all our own vegetables and in so
doing taught me the love of gardening. How on the onset of the first winter frosts to keep the potatoes earthed up. The varieties Sharpe’s Express, Epicure, Kerr’s Pink, King Edward
spring readily to my mind. At the bottom of the garden we had a small orchard with apple and pear trees, and also soft fruit bushes, and I well remember him growing rows of sweet peas and an abundance of scented roses. We kept a few chickens for their eggs and we also kept a pig which provided all the meat we required.

2. I have vivid memories of the victims of World War I, which had ended just a few years prior: the walking wounded trying to follow a suitable occupation, -no State Benefits in those
days -the amputees and victims of gas attacks and shell shock, reminders of the waste of human life caused by warfare. The 1914-1918 war supposedly was the war to end all wars; the war which would settle the nations differences once and for all; the war to which memorials for the fallen cover the whole country; the war which was to teach us the folly of war.
One of our teachers at Gowerton Junior School, Mr. Gilbert Sluman was a shell shocked victim and although a brilliant teacher was prone to be very easily upset when out would come the cane with which he commanded immediate attention.
It was because of this I grew up with the feeling of the avoidance against all forms of warfare, but at the same time of the necessity of eradicating all the causes that would eventually lead to warfare.
It was in this environment that I grew up, but I never became bored, there was so much to do. Having passed the “Scholarship” Examination, now the “Eleven Plus”, I received the obligatory bicycle, which enabled me to discover the beauties of the nearby Gower Peninsula, the first designated area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it was in September 1934 that I became a student at the Gowerton Intermediate County School, with its motto of
“Mi ddylwn, Mi allaf, Mi fynnaf’, which translates, “I ought, I can, I will”, this school many years later becoming the Gowerton Grammar School.
On leaving the Grammar School in June 1939, I was fortunate in gaining employment at 15s.0d. (75p) gross weekly in the general offices of the Elba Steelworks at Gowerton, and where my father was then employed, the works having been established in 1872.

3. Each of the surrounding villages of Gowerton had one or more coal mines, or a steelworks, a tinplate works, a foundry or some such heavy industry. On the 1st of September, 1939 when Poland was invaded by Germany under Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s command, Great
Britain and France mobilised their armed services. On the 3rd of September, at 11.15 a.m. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in a wireless broadcast, and in a most delightful
English voice, told us that as Germany had not replied to our ultimatum to withdraw their
forces from Poland, we as a nation were at war with Germany, telling us with these closing words:- Now, may God bless you all, may He defend the right. It is the evil things we shall be fighting against -brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution and against them I am certain that the right will prevail. His words were then followed by the playing of
“God Save the King”. Neither of my parents had gone to Chapel that Sunday morning and we all sat in our kitchen listening to the broadcast. As it finished I could sense my mother
looking across at me not saying a word and I could tell the thoughts that were going through her mind. Two of her brothers had returned safely from World War I. On the 21 st of June,
1905 my father, who was then 22 years of age, had been working underground as a collier at the Elba Colliery near Gowerton when a violent explosion had occurred, killing eleven
colliers. He was badly burnt on his face and arms, had both his legs broken and he suffered from the inhalation of firedamp. Bums from coal gas are described as like no others. They seem to penetrate almost to the bone and even the slightly injured suffer an intensity of pain
which is impossible to describe. His 20 year old brother, Alexander, who was working by his side died from the effect of firedamp. Because of his injuries my father never served in the armed forces during World War I.

4. My paternal grandfather had been killed at Gowerton Steelworks ten years later on the 15th of July, 1915 aged 53 years, when a 2 ton metal ball from an electro magnetic crane rebounded and struck him, crushing him to death. Was I to be the third generation of the family to die a sudden and violent death? Only time would tell.
The first eight months of the war became known as the “Phoney War” in which an uneasy calm settled over Western Europe. This Phoney War ended on the 18th of April, 1940 when without warning Germany invaded Denmark and Norway.
On the 10th of May, the day Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister, Hitler launched an offensive in the west. In the north his troops advanced into Holland, to the south his troops thrust through the wooded hilly country of the Ardennes. Outflanking the Maginot Line they swung north to trap huge numbers of French and British troops in northern France and Belgium, and by the 13th of May the Western Allies had already lost the Battle of France. On the 24th of May the entrapped British Expeditionary Force began to be evacuated from Dunkirk, the Royal Navy launching Operation “Dynamo” where between the 27th of May and the 4th of June, an armada of ‘little ships’ plucked 338,000 British and French troops from the beaches around Dunkirk, all the heavy equipment being abandoned in France. The popular press hailed the evacuation as a miracle, but as Winston Churchill pointed out, wars are not won by evacuations. He declared in the House of Commons that the Battle of Britain was about to begin and that Britain would continue to fight, albeit alone if necessary. On the 10th of June, 1940 Italy under the command of Dictator Benito Mussolini declared war on Great Britain and France. On the 10th of July the first phase of the Battle of Britain began as the Luftwaffe launched a series of probing attacks, seeking out the weaknesses of Fighter Command.

5. With the onset of war, Gowerton steelworks took its place, along with other such plants, in the production of armaments, and as such became a “wlnerable point” along with bridges, power- stations, depots, vital factories and the like which had to be guarded day and night against sabotage or enemy attack.
It had been in mid May, 1940 that Mr. Anthony Eden, onetime Foreign Secretary, had
proposed to the Cabinet his plan for raising Local Defence Volunteers and which met with
immediate response in all parts of the Country. On the suggestion of the Prime Minister the
name was changed to “Home Guard”. Gowerton raised two Companies of Home Guardsmen, seconded to the Welch Regiment, one to protect the village, the other formed from employees
to protect the steelworks. This was the Company that I joined at its inception. The steelworks was at the western end of the village which then leads out to the salt marshes of the tidal Burry Inlet in Carmarthen Bay. Our Commanding Officer, Captain Hubert Francis, together with the majority of the Senior NCO’s, were First World War veterans and imparted their military skills to us during lectures in the Village Hall and also when we took part in manoeuvres with and
against neighbouring Home Guard units. These were usually conducted at weekends as were our route marches. Our foot drill was conducted on the village sports fields. We had no
official transport, just our own bicycles. With the arrival of khaki uniforms and the issue of 0.303 calibre rifles we were emerging as a competent military force ready to respond to any orders in the event of an enemy invasion.
During August 1940, the corpses of about 40 German soldiers were washed up at scattered points along the coast between the Isle of Wight and Cornwall. This was a source of
widespread rumour that the Germans had attempted an invasion and had suffered very heavy losses either by drowning or being burnt in patches of sea which was covered in flaming oil.

6. In early September information showed that the westerly and southerly movements of barges and small ships to ports between Ostend and Le Harve was in progress, which added strength to these rumours. Operation “Sea Lion” was the name given to the German plan for the invasion of Britain and on the 7th of September the code name “Cromwell”, which meant that invasion was imminent, was issued, implying “Action Stations” for the forward coastal divisions, being repeated to all other Commands in the United Kingdom. The Home Guard were to be called out by the ringing of Church bells. On Tuesday the 17th of September, 1940 the Church bells of Bearninster, Dorset rang out early in the morning as a signal that an invasions had taken place. It proved to be a false alarm. The code word “Snipe” must have been given for this to have taken place. Such was the background against which the steelworks Company of the Home Guard carried out rosters of duty every evening using the First Aid building just inside the works entrance as a Guard Room. Having been promoted to the rank of Corporal, I was on duty on the night of Saturday the 28th of September, 1940 in charge of a party of Home Guardsmen. The night was fairly clear with quite a great deal of air activity, and with just a slight breeze with the moon due to set at about 3.00 a.m.
Hour after hour ticked quietly away, when suddenly I thought I could hear the bell of the village Church of St. John ringing. On going outside I was able to confirm that this was so, the signal that German troops were invading the Country was ringing out loud and clear. We had previously practised such an event on many occasions with each man knowing exactly what to do in such an emergency. All non essential lights throughout the works were immediately extinguished. I immediately called out the duty men, issuing each with his rifle and a bandolier of ammunition, and in the absence of a telephone, dispatching messengers into the village to ensure that our Commanding Officer and all other Senior NCO’s had heard the bell ringing out its message, and would report to his post.

7. Reports were corning back from the western side of the works that lights could be seen in the distance and that voices could be heard on the marshy ground of the inlet with it being
impossible to distinguish whether it was Welsh, English or German that was being spoken. Was any imminent attack to come from the seaward side of the works?
The lights which were visible seemed to be moving around which gave the impression that whoever was out there was floundering about in the mud.
The voices did not seem to be getting any louder but the lights continued to flash backwards and forwards which had the effect of keeping everyone on their toes.
When dawn broke after what had seemed to be a very, very long night, the figures could be
discerned. Figures of a duck shooting party who had become trapped by the incoming tide and were splashing about in it. The moving lights were caused by some distant fallen electricity wires sparking when they were being blown together in the wind.
But who had caused the Church bell to have been rung? We were never able to find out.
Several theories were discussed and discarded. Was it some prankster or was it all done in good faith?
In 1943 the code word for invasion was changed to “Bugbear”, and from the 27th of April of that year Church bells could be rung for Church services, but not for any other reason. Their ringing was no longer a signal for enemy air-borne or sea-borne invasion.
The steel works was closed in April, 1967 and by August, 1973 the whole site was cleared and subsequently became a leisure park which included outdoor football pitches and all weather
tennis courts, a housing development following in 1988. Later the village Medical Centre was built on virtually the same spot as where the Works First Aid building had once stood.

8. I left the Home Guard and also my employment at the steelworks early in July, 1941 when I received my “Calling Up” papers with the instructions to report to an address in Swansea to be medically examined. A recruiting sergeant who was present took one look at me and said, “You’re big enough for the Royal Marines”, so I “volunteered” for the Corps of Royal Marines reporting to Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth on the 15th of July, 1941 and became a recruit, along with 46 others in 101 H.O. (Hostilities Only] Squad, with the Division and Register Number PLY/x 104129. My weekly payment was 17s.0d. [85 pence], of which 7s.0d. [35 pence] was forwarded by the Authorities to my Mother, my next of kin, to provide her with a War Pension should anything happen to me.
Outwardly, the Royal Marine Corps dresses similar to the British Army and receives much of its equipment from that source, at the same time it is part of the Royal Navy. Yet it has its own traditions, badges, folklore and ceremonial, the latter being a vital part of the custom and heritage of the Royal Marines. Our khaki great coats had a distinctive arrangement of buttons, in four pairs, with badges of rank displayed just above the sleeve cuff, reminiscent of the days when the Royal Marines in their dress uniform wore a shoulder cape, which would have hidden any badges if worn on the upper arm. It is true to say that we were clothed by the Army, fed and paid by the Royal Navy, and were subjected to Naval discipline. So that we would have some regard for the honour of the Royal Marine Corps, and to promote in us a feeling of ‘esprit de corps’ we received several sessions covering the foundation of the Corps. We were taught that the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of foot was raised in 1664 from the Trained Bands of the City of London, and were armed with the new-fangled flintlock musket, a weapon calculated to be more suitable on the wild, wet and windy sea than the usual matchlock musket.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Re story A2729676

Posted on: 30 June 2004 by John Llewellyn Davies

This story by Stanley Ogilvie is most excellent! I have enjoyed reading Part 1, but where is part 2?

John Llewellyn Davies


Message 2 - Re story A2729676

Posted on: 21 July 2004 by SwanseaLibraries

Dear Mr Davies

The second exciting installment of Mr Ogilvie's story is article number A2729702. If you search for "Ogilvie" on these webpages, you should find it.

Hope this helps,

Luke O'Sullivan

Swansea Library Service

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Home Guard Category
Royal Navy Category
Books Category
South East Wales Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy